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House v. Green

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division

December 8, 2014

AMANDA HOUSE and SCOTT HOUSE, Plaintiffs,
v.
BLAKE GREEN, individually and in his official capacity; MAURY SCHUH, individually and in his official capacity; and THE CITY OF PLANTERSVILLE, MISSISSIPPI. Defendants.

ORDER

MICHAEL P. MILLS, District Judge.

Before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Plaintiffs have responded, and the court, having reviewed all memoranda of law, concludes that the motions as pertaining to defendants Blake Green, individually and in his official capacity, as well as The City of Plantersville should be granted. The motion as pertaining to defendant Maury Schuh should be denied.

Facts

On April 11, 2012 Amanda House's minor grandson, William Em, suffered an untimely death due to injuries suffered in an ATV accident. Amanda House, her husband Scott House, and the deceased child's mother, Robyn Em, buried William on Sunday, April 15. Prior to the accident, Amanda and Scott House had provided a home for Robyn and William Em, as well as for Josh West and Jaxson West, Robyn's infant child with Josh. However, by Monday, April 16, 2012, the family's domestic tranquility had substantially deteriorated. On that day, Amanda House placed a frantic 911-emergency call to the Plantersville Police Department requesting assistance in a domestic dispute. Officer Blake Green responded to that call, and arriving at the scene, observed a dispute between Amanda House and Robyn Em concerning Robyn's decision to move out of the House's residence with her minor son, Jaxson. Scott House, seeking shelter from the domestic storm, had locked himself and Jaxson in the House's bedroom. Upon Officer Green's inquiry, Amanda House confirmed that a handgun was in the bedroom in which Jaxson and Mr. House were holed up. Amanda House, fearing for Jaxson's safety, requested Officer Green to call the Department of Human Services to address the issue of Jaxson being removed from her home. Officer Green refused to make the call and informed Mrs. House that she would have to relinquish Jaxson to the custody of the child's mother, Robyn Em.

Though subsequent facts are disputed by the parties, this court will, to the extent plausibly possible, construe the facts in a light most favorable to the plaintiffs. Amanda House contends that since Officer Green did not call DHS as she requested, she told Officer Green "[i]f y'all do allow her to take the child, y'all will be responsible for his well-being, "[1] and "[i]f something happens to Jaxson, I am holding you' [Officer Green] responsible."[2] It is also undisputed that Amanda House had access to the loaded gun in her bedroom, [3] was involved in a domestic disturbance, [4] and was "upset."[5] The Plantersville Chief of Police, Maury Schuh, was not present during the time that any of these statements were made.[6] Confronted with these facts and feeling threatened, Officer Green arrested Amanda House, charged her with simple assault and disturbance of family, and transported her to the Lee County jail for processing.

Scott House went to the jail but was unable to obtain a bond for his wife's release. She remained in jail overnight. Scott House then returned home, when he received a phone call from Amanda, who contends that Scott told her "I might not be here when you get home tomorrow."[7] Concerned for her husband's safety, Amanda asked the officer on duty "if she had anyone that was going off duty" that could check on Scott.[8] Officer Green then went back to the House's residence after receiving a "[t]hreatening 10-66" call, a call that he interpreted to mean a "threatening suicide" call from the House's residence.[9] En route, Officer Green called Chief Maury Schuh and alerted him that there had been a threatening suicide call from the House's residence. Schuh told Officer Green to "stop doing what [he was] doing and wait for him to get there."[10] Once Chief Schuh arrived at the scene, he retrieved Officer Green's Taser, and both officers approached the House's residence.[11] Scott House, who was pacing the living room floor, heard "[b]anging on the door."[12] He announced that he would "be there in a minute" and placed his two chihuahuas, Precious and Sony, in another room.[13] Since Scott did not "come instantly" to the door, the officers "started screaming" at him.[14] As Scott opened the door, he observed Officer Green, with his gun drawn, standing right beside Chief Schuh, who immediately tasered him multiple times.[15] Scott was then handcuffed for "[a]bout 15 minutes" by Officer Green, before being "drug... to the ambulance" by Officer Green, and eventually placed in the care of the paramedics attending the scene.[16]

Standard of Review

A) Summary Judgment Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56

Summary judgment is only appropriate when there exists no genuine issue of material fact such that the movant is entitled to a judgment by the court as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The non-movant's evidence must be construed as such that all reasonable inferences are drawn in the non-movant's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1996). The party opposing the motion "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

B) Qualified Immunity

If a defendant properly invokes a qualified immunity defense, then burden shifts to the plaintiff to negate it. See Brown v. Callahan, 623 F.3d 249, 253 (5th Cir. 2010). In order to rebut the defense of qualified immunity, the plaintiff must establish, with all facts and inferences drawn in favor of the plaintiff, "a genuine fact issue as to whether the official's allegedly wrongful conduct violated clearly established law." Id. The defendants seeking qualified immunity, if unsatisfied with the determinations of this court, have the right to an immediate interlocutory appeal based on the denial of qualified immunity, and the appellate court will assume the facts of this court in determining whether, as a matter of law, such facts preclude qualified immunity. Kinney v. Weaver, 367 F.3d 337, 376 (5th Cir. 2004).

Qualified Immunity of Individual Officers

Both plaintiffs have alleged numerous causes of actions against both named individual defendants. Any discussion of qualified immunity, and the protection it affords, will have to be evaluated, specifically for each individual defendant in this case.

In determining whether an officer has stepped outside of the scope of protection afforded by qualified immunity, courts must look to whether or not "(1) an official's conduct violated a constitutional right of the plaintiff and (2) that right was clearly established at the time of the violation." Williams v. City of Cleveland, 736 F.3d 684, 688 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001)). If the constitutional right implicated resembles one's Fourth Amendment right against the use of excessive force by arresting officers, the proper inquiry is if there existed "(1) an injury (2) which resulted from the use of force that was clearly excessive to the need and (3) the excessiveness of which was objectively unreasonable." Id. (quoting Rockwell v. Brown, 664 F.3d 984, 991 (5th Cir. 2013)). If the constitutional right allegedly violated is that resembling wrongful arrest, by way of the Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment, then "[t]hese causes of action implicate the constitutional guarantees of the fourth and fourteenth amendments when the individual complains of an arrest, detention, and prosecution without probable cause. '" Hernandez v. Terrones, 397 F.Appx. 954, 966 (5th Cir. 2010) (quoting Thomas v. Kippermann, 846 F.2d 1009, 1011 (5th Cir.1988)). To determine whether probable cause existed for the arrest, and the subsequent detention, the court must "embark on a practical, ...


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